Getting on Your Feet, Staying on Your Feet

Three audio stories from a woman’s experience of family, drug use, recovery, and homelessness

These stories are from the Invisible Project, a collaboration between the Welcome Project and Porter County Coalition for Affordable Housing, Housing Opportunities, Gabriel’s Horn, Dayspring Women’s Center, and Porter County Museum.

CONTENT WARNING: “Don’t Know How I Survived” contains sexual abuse and violence.

Note: Tracks can be listened to individually and do not need to be listened to in order.

Transcript for Don’t Know How I Survived

Transcript for Hard, Cold Realizations

Transcript for More Than Just a Statistic

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Don’t Know How I Survived

“The most difficult thing about homelessness as a female is maintaining your level of dignity.”

Well, I think that home is where people you love create and share memories, in a particular fashion, you know, that’s caring and stable. And I never really had a real sense of what home was until maybe I was twenty-five, I had — on my third child.

I’m originally from Chicago, Illinois. I grew up on welfare, and the projects of Chicago. It was, like, the hood. The ghetto. And it was an impoverished area. I had a pretty broken family. I actually — I used to run away a lot. I was going through a lot of, you know, abuse and neglect at home, and incest in the family occurred. Mother was always cold and distant. She was one way in front of people, and a different way at home, but most people knew that grew up with us and stuff, so they would help me run away — cover my tracks and stuff, because she’d go looking for us with a bag of doorknobs. She had this Crown Royal bag of doorknobs, and my friends would be, ‘I saw your mom, and she had that purple bag with the doorknobs,’ and … yeah. Then, talk about anxiety, so I still suffer from anxiety. Wasn’t even nothing, you know, it’s just this intense feeling like you’re in trouble. Yeah, I take medication for it to this day.

I remember once — I have older sisters — there was ten of us. I had older sisters, and we had different fathers among us. And I was walking my older sister to her job. She had a job at Grace’s Garden of Eden. When I came back, I saw all of our furniture outside, and I was no more than maybe twelve. And I’m coming down the alley, and I see this, that, ‘Hey, that’s ours!’ and I saw these sheriffs taking all of our stuff out. I didn’t really understand what was going on, though. I was a kid. I’ m seeing all our stuff outside, and then, having to go live with my grandma which was already over filled to capacity.

Honestly, don’t know how I survived that. That’s why, every day, I do something towards my well-being, towards my family unit’s well-being. The most difficult thing about — overall — about homelessness as a female is maintaining your level of dignity because you can be compromised in so many ways. I moved in with a friend temporarily. Again, we had to deal with issues of sexual abuse. My teenage daughter — she had just had the baby and everything, but the guy we was living with, he was an old-time friend of both of ours, but he would make comments, he would drink. I didn’t feel safe. I had to make mad dashes home to make sure she didn’t get out of school before I got there because I didn’t want her to have a millisecond in the same room with him subject to what he could say. You know, it’s three a.m., and he said that it was nothing sexual, but you need your child to be able to remain asleep in your bed, but he’s coming and knocking with intentions of not sleeping, you know what I mean, and it’s like, you’re put in the position where, well, how do I try to break this to him, or how do I —? I don’t want to hurt his feelings — they’re helping you, so maybe you should help them. You shouldn’t have to give up of yourself what I found to be precious, like pieces of your soul. That’s why Housing Opportunities is so important. St. Margaret’s — a place where you can at least bathe and have self-respect, and you know, pride about yourself. And then, that you can identify goals, and create goals, and pursue them. And that’s important.

Hard, Cold Realizations

“Yeah, sure, I was dealt a shitty hand, but my actions only made it worse.”

Looking back, I don’ t believe I was a good mom, and that’s a difficult thing to say, for a mother to actually state. It’s easier to look at what someone else does. I had to face some real hard, cold realizations about my life, and my hand in it. And, yeah, sure, I was dealt a shitty hand, but my actions only made it worse.

During my drug adventures, I even rose while I was on drugs. Yeah, that happens sometimes. That’s the false illusion of drugs. I got my place after being homeless. Got it furnished. Church got me a car. Got this really great job at GM, at the Hummer plant. I got hit by a forklift. Well, when I was off, I was still dabbling in drugs. I wasn’t like, on the streets, but still, you can’t dabble with drugs. It’s like, they get jealous. They want you full time. They want all your time. So, dabbling, and you get sucked back in.

I lost so much, so much. My children, this was after I signed my children — I lost everything, and I was sitting in my car that was about to repossessed, at the park, because I didn’t have nowhere to live, so I’ m living in my car. So, I was thinking all these people that would be in my driveway trying to sell me drugs just the minute I got home. I mean, it’s like, so many times you want to stop. You always want to stop, of course, but then the drug dealers was coming, and waiting for me in my driveway — went out on payday, you know? Giving you free samples, knowing full well. And then, six a.m., they got your whole entire income, and you don’t even have a pint of milk. You don’t even have anything to eat. You’ re taking a knife, and with a hammer, and trying to open a can of string beans.

It’s almost like I was in a coma all this time, and I woke up, and then someone’s telling me what I did, because I can’t see myself even thinking or doing the things that I did at that time. My children were taken from me shortly after my baby was born with cocaine in its system. Obviously, I wasn’t responsible enough, or capable of ensuring the baby’s health inside me, so they took the baby. And they give you a chance to get the kids back. Well, they usually give you like, eighteen months, and then, after that, they move to terminate your rights — that means your parental rights — but the thing is, they couldn’t take away my emotional need to be a parent. And I’ve still been in their lives, and they still got to call me ‘Mom,’ but it was rocky with one of them, because they was really angry. But, it’s important that the bad feelings that they felt — in order for them to feel, yeah, justified in feeling that, the person that’s inflicting that pain needs to step up and say, ‘Yes, I understand. I did this. There’s things I could’ve done better.’ You know, it doesn’t wipe the wound away, but it’s addressing, you know, it’s the salve you need to be able to move on and still excel at life.

More Than Just a Statistic

“Just ’cause someone’s homeless doesn’t mean they’re worthless.”

It’s not so big a problem getting on your feet — it’s staying on your feet. That’s the whole thing. Pretty much anybody, if you take fifteen hundred dollars, put them in an apartment, pay the deposit, get their utilities on: boom. No, they’re great now. No, it’s a lot more to it than that. It’s being responsible. Paying your bills. Don’t pawn your TV, you know, for drugs. Don’t tell NIPSCO that,‘Yo,I’m gonna go give this money to dope dealer, I’m not gonna give it to you.’

When children go to school, they come home with papers that the teacher — you gotta be on top of that stuff. You gotta know what’s going on. You gotta know when parent-teacher conferences — you gotta know if your child’s doing well, and ways you can help them at home, that way they’re not a distraction at school for the other children, so they can get what they need. It’s just so many things that you have to be aware of, and that drug use, and mental instability… So, it wasn’t — because I had another problem, because once I got off drugs, ok, how do I deal with the problems that I have? I mean,I’ve self-medicated, and self-medicated, but still, life still goes on. You know, the other people around you are still moving around, and still doing things,and you still can’t be stagnant.

There were people, a lot of people along the way that helped — people that were virtual strangers. There was a place in South Bend,Indiana called St. Margaret’s house. It was a place women and children could go have a hot meal at lunchtime. But it opened at eight o’clock. They allowed you to take showers, and it was mostly ran on donations, and through the church. They had soap and towels, and they let you use the phone for jobs and things of that nature. Things of necessity if you were trying to get on your feet.

The thing that is important for people to realize is just because someone’s homeless doesn’t mean they’ re worthless. That everybody has a story. If you don’t know that story, you really can’t attempt to try and say what the outcome is going to be, because had I ended my life when I was out there, when I was so confused and lost, and all that, I wouldn’t have been able to see my grandchildren, I wouldn’t have obtained my degrees, I never would have known there was more to me than just a statistic.